McConnell faces growing conservative heat on impeachment

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Donald Trump

dpa/tca/GNA — A myriad of conservative voices are warning Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell against doing anything to facilitate a conviction of former President Donald Trump in an impeachment trial that he’s proposing begin next month.

“He has to keep the Republican caucus in line and make sure as few Republicans vote for impeachment as possible,” said Terry Schilling, executive director of the American Principles Project, a northern Virginia-based conservative group that boasts 300,000 national members. “(Impeachment) will deeply divide Republican officeholders and it will infuriate the base.”

McConnell, who this week directly blamed Trump for provoking the mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, is not pressuring his Republican caucus members to vote one way or the other in an impeachment trial, according to a Senate aide. Instead, the Kentuckian has framed the choice as a “vote of conscience,” leaving open the option to vote to convict Trump himself.

But his departure from enforcing GOP unity against impeachment has angered some prominent conservative influencers, who began to target McConnell this week.

Sean Hannity, the highly rated Fox News TV host, suggested McConnell step down from his leadership post.

“If you’re not gonna fight, we deserve better,” Hannity said on his daytime radio show. “You can go back to representing the people of Kentucky and let somebody that knows how to lead, lead.”

Hannity later echoed his call on his television program: “Mitch, if the choice is, to be frank with you … weak establishment Republicanism versus America First, I choose the latter.”

Rush Limbaugh, the titan of conservative talk radio, accused McConnell on his program of being the leader of establishment Republicans seizing the moment “to kill off the Trump movement.”

“He’s attempting to impugn it and make it impossible for it to have any credibility going forward,” charged Limbaugh, who then went on to read a story that raised questions about McConnell’s wife’s business ties to the Chinese government.

Amy Kremer, a former chairwoman of the Tea Party Express and co-founder of Women for Trump, blasted McConnell following his comments implicating Trump’s role in the capital riot.

“Who is the mob?” she asked him on Twitter. “Are you talking about the 74 million people who voted for President Donald J. Trump? The only lies that were fed are that Joe Biden won the election. If you think President Trump’s base is going anywhere you are sadly mistaken.”

Even Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who credited McConnell for being a “great street fighter,” during a Fox News appearance, expressed concern about his willingness to entertain a formal rebuke of Trump.

“He is, in my view, giving some legitimacy to this impeachment process that I think is wrong,” Graham said.

Graham continued, “If this party will survive, we have to realize that Donald Trump had a consequential presidency for conservatives. He will be the strongest voice in the party.”

But privately, McConnell has told confidantes he believes that Trump will only continue to weigh on the Republican Party in the months and years ahead, potentially imperiling their chances at reclaiming the Senate majority in 2022. If all 50 Democrats vote against Trump in a trial, 17 Republicans would need to join them to reach the 67 total necessary for a formal conviction.

That number seems like a tall order the further the Trump presidency fades away and attention focuses on President Joe Biden’s push to pass his own legislative agenda, including passage of a massive $1.9 trillion Covid relief package.

This week, McConnell said little about his desire to see Trump convicted, perhaps a sign he is gauging the appetite for such an unprecedented move within his party. No president before Trump had ever been impeached twice and there’s never been an impeachment trial of a former president.

McConnell did put forward a potential timeline for a mid-February trial to unfold. He suggested that House impeachment managers could present the single article of impeachment on “incitement” to the Senate as soon as next Thursday, providing Trump one week for an initial response. He proposed the House present their pre-trial rebuttal to Trump by February 13, allowing for the formal trial to commence shortly thereafter.

“Senate Republicans strongly believe we need a full and fair process where the former President can mount a defense and the Senate can properly consider the factual, legal, and constitutional questions at stake,” McConnell said on Friday.

In other words, the cloud of a second impeachment trial of a former president could linger for weeks, if not months, overshadowing the goals of the new administration.

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York would have to agree to these dates, but is still locked in a standstill with McConnell over the operating structure of the 50-50 Senate. McConnell is asking Schumer to commit to keeping the filibuster intact — the rule forcing Democrats to wrangle 60 votes to pass most pieces of legislation. But Schumer is balking at that request in order to preserve his options in the event Republicans stick together to block Biden’s initiatives.

Still, a battle over procedures could prove to favor McConnell, as Democrats are eager to finalize Senate committee assignments and approve Biden’s Cabinet nominees.

Since the House is poised to transfer the article of impeachment to the Senate on Monday, the upper chamber may move more quickly than McConnell has proposed.

But no matter when it begins or how long it lasts, conservatives are sure to be closely monitoring McConnell’s every utterance.

“This is impeachment. This is not a waterways bill or a labor bill or transportation bill,” said Schilling. “There’s no middle ground on this.”

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